A Train Journey From Kesinga To Cherthala On The Dhanbad Express

by | May 18, 2023

December 15, 2022, 2:30 AM

The Dhanbad Express arrived at the Kesinga station. Along with everyone else on the platform, I ran towards the sleeper-class section at the far end of the train. The moment I stepped foot into the coach, is exactly when I understood the true meaning of the word ‘cattle class’.

Thank You, Mr. Shashi Tharoor, for introducing me to this word.

I was going home on an emergency and hence couldn’t reserve my ticket early on. On seeing me, the ticket issuer at the station warned me against getting into the general compartment which, I later found out, had only 2 coaches of sleeper class. His comment got me wondering about my safety.

We, the cattle class

Have you ever played the statue game? Where you point at the player and say statue, to which the other players respond by being extremely still in whatever position they are in. Yes, everyone in that coach were playing statue. And the players were sitting on the steps without enough room for anyone to stand upright. There was not a woman in sight. I got into the S1 coach and was mentally prepared to be groped. Imagine how vulnerable one would feel to prepare for such an event. However, this is also the train ride where I witnessed some of the best human behavior.

If you aren’t familiar with this train route, it runs through one of the major interstate migration belts in India. Majority of the passengers are migrant laborers traveling from Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The train starts from the Dhanbad junction in Jharkhand, passes through West Bengal, and enters Odisha. I got on from the Kesinga station in Kalahandi, Odisha. Further, it moves along Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to enter Kerala, where my destination was the Cherthala station. The train runs up to Kerala’s Alappuzha station.

The coach was jam-packed, but to my amusement, not a single fight broke out during the entire journey. I squeezed through the crowd and found a place to stand. As this was in the early morning hours, I started to doze off. Luckily, the man sleeping on the side lower shifted a bit. I was relieved as I got an opportunity to sit. All of us adjusted and were accommodating of each other. This all changed soon.

New passengers who were on their way to a certain pilgrimage started boarding. They started pushing and shouting everyone else out of their compartment. A tired woman who was sitting on the floor of their coupe was snided at with rude remarks as if she was a rabid dog.

Anyone who spent more than a couple seconds in their coupe were met with such inhuman behaviour. It was ironic that they were pilgrims.

The train started gathering more passengers at each station. As the sleeping hours approached, I was invited to sit on the floor with my newfound friends so that I could take a more relaxed nap. I obliged and got a peaceful nap on the floor of the crowded train, being interrupted only when someone fails to carefully maneuver over our sleeping bodies while passing through the aisle.

I later found out that the number of sleeper class coach were decreased to make way for more AC ones.This resulted in more traffic in the most in-demand lower class sections of the train. Considering that most of the passengers in this train are migrant laborers with lower income bracket, the sleeper class is the one that needs to be increased. When I spoke about this to my fellow passengers, their reply was, “Who will hear us? We don’t have any voice to request any change”. That got me thinking to write about this issue to authorities and see what happens.

The return

I was returning with a heavy heart as I had just lost my grandfather. Reconciling with few family members made this trip bittersweet. On New Year’s Eve to 2023, I was on the train back from home.

Friendships with an introvert

While traveling solo, I always try to get a sense of the places. You know the sixth sense you develop for things from experiences, your intuition. I always listen to that. With my safety detection radar on, I scanned through the compartments and sat down where I sensed was okay. As I sat pondering, the ticket squad came in to issue the fine for changing the general ticket to sleeper. My co-passenger heard me say that I was headed to Odisha. The next moment I get to know that he is from my field area in Kalahandi. We hit it off like long-lost friends. As he had a reserved seat, he shared it with me. For someone who is an extreme introvert, I am a mega extrovert while traveling. Also, I would say that my safety radar brought me to him.

Child labor and questions to myself

As the train was in the home stretch of my return journey, a mother and her little daughter entered our coach. They were here to earn some money. The mother played the drum and the child danced. Was this child labor? The child here is dancing only because her family has no means to support the child’s education. I think about asking the child if there is a school near her residence. More such questions kept coming to my mind.

You can listen to the rhythms to which the child was dancing in this video.

The butterfly took 3.5 days

In total, I had spent 3.5 days on the Dhanbad Express. 3.5 days of falling in love with my fellow cattle class passengers. The one thing that didn’t happen to me was, I didn’t get groped. This was one of the safest journeys I had been on. One that gave me tons of things to ponder on.

From my end, I have written a request to the concerned authorities to increase the sleeper class coaches of this particular train. If anything comes out of it, I shall keep you posted in the comments section below. Stay tuned!

And here’s to looking forward to my next journey on the Dhanbad Express. If you ask me, I would recommend you take one too. Hit me up if you’d like to tag along.

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1 Comment

  1. Akankasha Choudhary

    Read this blog and felt connected to this on so many levels. Cattle class is a journey in itself.


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